Blu-Ray Review: Battle Of The Worlds (1961).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Story & Screenplay by Vassily Petrov
Cinematography: Marcello Masciocchi
Edited by Mario Serandrei
Music by Mario Migliard

Cast: Claude Rains (Professor Benson), Bill Carter (Cmdr. Robert Cole), Maya Brent (Eve Barnett), Umberto Orsini (Dr. Fred Steele), Jacqueline Derval (Mrs. Collins)


Antonio Margheriti’s first film as director, Assignment: Outer Space (1960, AKA Space-Men) did well, so Titanus (there’s no producer credited on these films) gave him a bit more to work with for the next one, which ended up being Battle Of The Worlds (1961). The most obvious thing to come from that boost in budget was hiring Claude Rains, who does a lot more for the film than it does for him.

Rains plays Professor Benson, a cantankerous old genius who’s been watching another planet, which he calls “The Outsider,” approach the earth. Scientists from a space station near Mars consult with Rains, who predicts The Outsider will come close to the earth, but pass by without hitting it. They doubt him, but when it turns out he’s right, everybody’s relieved. Whew! Then it alters its course and settles into an orbit around the earth. That’s not a very planet-y thing to do.

Rains decides some sort of intelligence is controlling The Outsider and tells the scientists it needs to be destroyed right away. Again, the professor is ignored.

Spaceships are sent out to investigate — and they’re promptly destroyed by a fleet of flying saucers that come swarming out of The Outsider. Whatever this thing is, it’s got some vile ideas about the earth. Now, everybody’s more than willing to listen to Rains. And he knows exactly what needs to be done.

Like most Italian science fiction movies, Battle Of The Worlds is pretty odd. At times, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The budget limitations are painfully obvious. The acting is, for the most part, pretty bad (hard to tell with all the dubbing). And the pacing is weird. But like Margheriti’s previous picture, there’s something about it that I find really, really cool.

All of Margheriti’s sci-fi pictures of the 60s demonstrate his love of science fiction, which makes up for most of the film’s deficiencies. The special effects run hot and cold. Maybe that’s being generous, but I prefer them that way. Battle Of The Worlds is jam-packed with ideas and creativity, which are far more valuable than a several million bucks worth of CGI. 

Claude Rains is a lot of fun in this thing. He’s pretty over-the-top, playing an eccentric scientist a lot like the one he played in the remake of The Lost World (1960, he was Professor Challenger in that one). Rains demanded that his scenes for Battle Of The Worlds be shot with sound, rather than the Italian way of dubbing everything in later. English-speaking actors were used frequently. All this makes a big difference in how the film plays.

Margheriti and cinematographer Marcello Masciocchi are very inventive with their camerawork. Odd angles and unusual lens choices give the picture a very distinct, other-wordly look — and help disguise the lack of funds.

Battle Of The Worlds touches down in Orlando, Florida, 1963.

In 1963, Topaz Film Corporation paired Battle Of The Worlds with another Italian picture, Atom Age Vampire (1960). They played drive-ins for years before winding up on television. That’s where I caught up with it, on a local station late one night in the mid-70s.

The crap we used to watch (left) vs. The Film Detective (right).

Now let’s get to the new Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. An original 35mm print from the American Topaz release was used. While the picture played Italy in Technicolor, it criss-crossed the US in Eastman Color — and that’s what we see here. The folks at The Film Detective have cleaned up the print quite a bit — it’s sharp as a tack, very steady and with minimal splices. The color has faded a bit toward that Eastman Color’s weird, sickly, pinkish brown, however. That’s a shame, but what we have here is far, far superior to what we’ve been suffering through for decades (see the above comparison, from The Film Detective YouTube channel). It’s not perfect, but I’m so happy to have it. (Having grown up watching lots of film prints, mostly 16mm, I have a soft spot for a few light lines, some grain and a bit of fading. It’s part of the film experience, and I like being reminded of it every now and then.) I’m so thankful that companies like The Film Detective are willing to do the sleuthing necessary to find the best available material for films like this, then taking on the costly clean-up work needed for a nice DVD/Blu-Ray release.

The supplements are quite nice. There’s a half-hour piece on Antonio Margheriti from Ballyhoo and Tim Lucas. It’s excellent. There’s also a commentary by Justin Humphreys, and a nice essay in the booklet.

I’ve been a fan of Battle Of The Worlds since I saw it on TV. For years, I’ve wanted it to make it to DVD or Blu-Ray in a version that reflected what it looked like back in 1961 (or ’63). This isn’t perfect, but I love it. I’ve been on a Margheriti sci-fi mini-binge of late, so the timing with this is perfect. A big thanks to folks at The Film Detective, and a big recommendation to all y’all out there.

4 Comments

Filed under 1961, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, The Film Detective

4 responses to “Blu-Ray Review: Battle Of The Worlds (1961).

  1. john k

    Great review as always Toby.
    To be honest this Italian Sci Fi phase passed me by considering my non stop
    60’s diet of cinematic diet of Horror,Sci Fi,Peplum and Toho epics.
    There are several Toho films that I’ve never seen including THE MYSTERIANS and FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS; not to mention
    GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER.
    I remember seeing THE H MAN (a stunning blend of Japanese Neo Noir and
    anti Nuke Sci Fi) at the Pullman Cinema Brixton (now the ultra trendy
    Little Bit Ritzy Cinema) the Pullman chain a South East London mini
    circuit had the cheapest seats in London-front stalls 1 shilling-5p in
    today’s money.
    The shilling stalls (i.e. the first 6 rows) were mainly occupied by “The
    Gentlemen Of The Road” (OK Hobos) who could kip (sleep) in these seats
    from opening time around lunchtime to closing at approx 11pm.
    What these guys did at night is anybody’s guess.
    Needless to say it got pretty rank at the Pullman and a rather stout lady
    would spray the entire cinema with Flit an industrial strength air
    freshener that needed two hands to operate.
    For about 15 minutes after a robust burst of Flit down two isles it was
    as if an entire fog had descended upon the Pullman and I missed
    that amount of screen time of THE H MAN.
    I wonder how the lungs of regular patrons fared with regular blasts of Flit.

    Like

    • I saw The H Man around the same time, and probably the same channel, that I discovered Battle Of The Worlds. That’s a very odd, creepy movie — and one of the first non-kaiju Japanese films I ever saw.

      Your description of the Pullman theater is fascinating. That Flit would’ve probably made my allergies go nuts, sending me home a wreck and really cheesing off my mom.

      I’ve got a copy of The First Spaceship On Venus sitting here waiting for me to finally get around to watching it. It has somehow eluded me for decades.

      Like

  2. john k

    JACK & THE BEANSTALK………….John’s comments
    Hope you will forgive the intrusion Toby but I thought I would comment
    on Classicflix stunning (Supercinecolor) restoration of JACK & THE
    BEANSTALK.
    I thought I’d comment more on the extras rather than the film which looks
    beyond wonderful.
    There’s a priceless TV skit where A & C meet Frankenstein (Glenn Strange)
    and The Creature From The Black Lagoon.
    There’s an amazing trailer gallery of 18 A & C trailers including all of
    their Horror spoofs plus their two color films.
    The later A & C titles are presented in 2.0 ratio.
    There’s also a nice charity pitch featuring A & C and Charles Laughton.
    The extra that really blew my socks off was the brief history of Cinecolor
    with many rare clips.
    There’s a really nice clip from ROSE OF CIMARRON looking as it
    really should as well as rare clips from Color Corp Of America titles
    including CAPTAIN KIDD & THE SLAVE GIRL and SABRE JET both
    in widescreen. Bob Furmanek has stated that that the master negs of
    both these titles sadly no longer exist.
    I was also pleased to see clips from the Natural Color version of
    LADY IN THE IRON MASK.
    I would love to see restored versions of all of these films.

    Mighty fine to see Toby’s name among those who financed this wonderful
    project.

    Like

    • A&C’s Jack & The Beanstalk from The 3-D Film Archive is an amazing thing. I’m still making my way through it all.

      Regardless of what you might think of the movie, this is a shining example of what can be done with an old film. Bob Furmanek and his cohorts are magicians!

      Like

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